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Are these the 5 most memorable Minnesota weather events?

Minnesota has its share of extreme weather: the Halloween blizzard of 1991, The Red River flooding of 1997, the Twin Cities tornado outbreak of 1965, the Comfrey-St. Peter tornado outbreak in 1998 and the 1999 'Boundary Waters Blowdown.'

FILE: 1991 Halloween blizzard
Drew and JR Armstrong, of Duluth, found it no problem to climb atop the family car amid heavy snow on Nov. 1, 1991, in the midst of the Halloween blizzard. They were trying to help clear it off. Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune
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Living in Minnesota isn’t for the faint of heart. Sure, every region across the globe has its challenges, but when it comes to seasonal variety, the North has a unique set of weather events to fear — from severe summer tornadoes to dangerous winter blizzards.

While each season bringing forth beauty — and new challenges — it can be difficult to nail down the most severe and impactful weather events in recent history.

Yet, according to those who know weather best, there are a few standout weather calamities dating back to 1965 that deserve special recognition.

Is this list missing a particularly memorable Minnesota weather event? Let us know! Email reporter Trisha Taurinskas at ttaurinskas@forumcomm.com.

1991: the Halloween blizzard

If you’ve lived in Minnesota during the autumn months, you’ve likely heard about the famous Halloween Blizzard of 1991. In fact, you’ve likely heard about it more than 10 times.

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halloween blizzard.jpg

There’s a good reason for that — it was wild and unexpected.

As kids throughout the state prepared for an evening of collecting candy in their favorite costumes, Mother Nature was brewing a different kind of fun.

Unbeknownst to nearly everyone, including meteorologists, the snow that began to fall gently in the early afternoon would turn into a 3-day storm that dropped roughly thirty inches of snow across portions of the state.

It wasn’t just the snow that made the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 such a tremendous meteorological event. In addition to the precipitation, wind gusts increased throughout Halloween night and into the next morning, leaving downed trees and power lines.

Temperatures also plummeted, creating a scary situation across the state.

As Minnesotans dug themselves out from the storm, cleared the trees and, eventually, left their homes, they began telling one another their stories — and they really haven’t stopped.

Commemorative sweatshirts were made, declaring, “I survived the Halloween Storm of 1991,” and the walls of homes throughout Minnesota are still decorated with framed photos of children wearing their Halloween best in the midst of the winter storm.

1997: Red River flood

If you lived anywhere near the Dakotas or Minnesota in the late '90s, the devastation of the Red River flooding in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks is an experience not easily forgotten.

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Flood 1997
Car that was washed away and ended up this way on Fenton Ave. in the Riverside Park area April 24, 1997. Herald file photo.

The communities along the river, both in North Dakota and Minnesota, still show visible signs of the damage done — and the rebuilding that occurred following the historic flood.

The flooding hit in April and May, as winter snow and ice rapidly melted, contributing to an overflow of melted precipitation, according to the National Weather Service.

The winter that preceded the thaw also greatly contributed to the conditions. From September to April, the area experienced more than 200% of its typical snowfall, along with cold air outbreaks, contributing to the accumulation of ice along the river.

As floods hit downtown Grand Forks, fires also broke out. An article in the Grand Forks Herald at the time depicts a horrific scene of traumatized residents trying to flee the flood zone, while also coping with what was described at the time as a scene resembling a “war zone.”

1997FloodFEATHelgeson.jpg
The first- and flood-damaged First National Bank building is shown in this photo from the Flood of 1997. Submitted by Diane Helgeson.

The local hospital was closed and evacuated, University of North Dakota officials begged residents to help in efforts to save the campus, mandatory evacuation zones were instituted and those living in apartments were rescued by local first responders.

It was a nightmare — and so was the cleanup.

As the community rebuilt, the memory of the flood remained. With residents impacted in one way or another, stories of the experience live on throughout the city and inside the homes of families who recall the devastating days of 1997.

1965: Twin Cities tornado outbreak

In an unlikely scenario, five tornadoes swirled through the Twin Cities area in 1965, injuring more than 600 people and killing thirteen.

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It was the first time the Twin Cities used the civil defense sirens for purposes related to dangerous weather, according to the National Weather Service. That alarm system, along with radio and other modes of communication, is credited for saving the lives of many who could have succumbed to the widespread disaster.

Twin_Cities_tornadoes_of_1965.jpg
A Thursday, May 13 article in the Star Tribune depicts the damage of the string of tornadoes that swept through the area in May of 1965.
Image courtesy of newspapers.com

The tornadoes started in the early evening of May 6, 1965. Just after 6 p.m., the first tornado touched down in Carver County, killing three. Roughly twenty minutes later, Chanhassen was hit, followed by a third tornado in New Auburn.

The fourth tornado, which took one lift, hit Green Isle by 6:43 p.m. Twenty minutes later, Fridley was hit, resulting in three deaths and 175 injuries. Roughly a half hour later, Golden Valley was hit. There, the devastation took hold as six died and 158 were injured.

1998: Comfrey, St. Peter tornadoes

On March 29, 1998, a warm front hit the areas of Comfrey and St. Peter, ultimately resulting in 14 tornadoes touching down in the central Minnesota community. It was an unlikely scenario for many reasons, particularly because the state had only recorded seven total tornadoes for the month of March prior to 1998, according to the National Weather Service.

A National Weather Service graphic shows the path of the tornado that struck Comfrey and St Peter in 1998.
A National Weather Service graphic shows the path of the tornado that struck Comfrey and St Peter in 1998.
Graphic courtesy of National Weather Service.

The damage was extensive, hitting schools, businesses, homes and any other structure in the way. In addition to the high winds and tornadoes, the storm produced large hail, with one ball measuring 4.5 inches in diameter.

Two fatalities occurred during the storm, along with many other injuries. The two that perished in the storm included an 85-year-old man and a 6-year-old boy.

1999: ‘Boundary Waters Blowdown’

It was a storm that affected many throughout the North, from North Dakota to Canada.

BWCA destruction .jpeg
Winds of up to 100 mph swept through the Boundary Waters during Independence Day weekend in 1999, resulting in roughly 60 campers injured by falling trees.
Photo courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

High winds moved through the area, causing widespread damage to roofs and buildings from cities in North Dakota to northern Minnesota. The storm (known as a derecho) lasted 22 hours, traveling more than 1,200 miles with steady winds of 60 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

In Fargo, vehicles and planes were overturned. As it made its way through Minnesota, the trend continued, tearing off roofs and causing widespread damage.

For those camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), July 4, 1999 was a literal nightmare.

Wind gusts blew through the BWCA, clocking in at up to 100 mph. The winds caused extreme damage to large swaths of the wooded area, downing trees and injuring many. In all, roughly 60 people were injured by falling trees, 20 of whom had to be rescued by float planes.

Certainly, it was an Independence Day weekend that many can’t seem to forget.

More from The Vault

Related Topics: WEATHER
Trisha Taurinskas is an enterprise crime reporter for Forum Communications Co., specializing in stories related to missing persons, unsolved crime and general intrigue. Her work is primarily featured on The Vault.

Trisha is also the host of The Vault podcast.

Trisha began her journalism career at Wisconsin Public Radio. She transitioned to print journalism in 2008, and has since covered local and national issues related to crime, politics, education and the environment.

Trisha can be reached at ttaurinskas@forumcomm.com.
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